Climate change increases risks of toxic pollutants

A UN study has found that climate change increases exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heightens their toxic effects on humans and the environment.

The study was previewed at the Climate Change Conference in Cancun this week.

POPs are persistent and toxic and can affect generations of humans. Exposure to POPs is known to be extremely harmful to health and can be the source of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders and cancer.

Some POPs are also considered to be endocrine disrupters and by altering the hormonal system, can also damage human reproductive and immune systems.

Extreme weather events, such as the flooding in Pakistan this year, can trigger the secondary emissions of POPs, the research finds.

When flood water enters agricultural land where stockpiles of obsolete POPs pesticides are stored, thousands of tonnes of pollutants can be released into the environment.

Large stocks of obsolete pesticides tend to be situated in areas where there are intensive cash crops and agricultural activities.

Stockpiles located in towns or villages and near water bodies pose potential lethal human health and environmental risks.

Approximately 6,033 metric tonnes of obsolete stocks of POPs pesticides in Pakistan were reported to the Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention by the Government of Pakistan in February 2009.

The use of POPs is banned under the Stockholm Convention.

It is thought thousands of tonnes of the toxic chemical were released during the floods.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under-secretary general and executive director Achim Steiner said: “The increasing frequency and severity of tropical cyclones and flood events are increasingly putting at risk stockpiles containing thousands of metric tonnes of obsolete POPs pesticides and the low-lying agricultural communities where these chemicals are typically stored.”

The study, ‘Climate Change and POPs Inter-Linkages’, was conducted by climate and chemical experts from 12 countries.

The full study will be presented to the 5th meeting of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention in April 2011.

Alison Brown

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